The Family Court considers thousands of allegations of domestic abuse every year. Many cases will have just one short hearing, others may take several months to resolve. The most difficult cases tend to be those in which the court is asked to exclude the alleged abuser from the family home.
Timing is often key in this sort of case. The person who alleges domestic abuse must go to court without delay. Likewise, the person against whom the allegations are made may have very little time to find a lawyer, gather their evidence and prepare their statement.
Broadly speaking, the court can make two types of order when considering allegations of domestic abuse:
non-mols, typically prohibit someone from using or threatening violence against another. They will also prevent someone from harassing, intimidating or pestering the other person.
Judges will readily make non-mol orders for a short time if there are allegations of domestic abuse. If however the allegations are disputed then the court will list the matter for a hearing to decide where the truth lies. Where the allegations are not disputed, or if the other person does not oppose the non-mol order, then the order may continue in force for a year or more.
The court will consider carefully whether to make an Occupation Order. This is because it is a very significant step to exclude someone from their own home.
Sometimes the harm suffered is thought to be particularly significant. In these cases the court must make an occupation order if the harm suffered by the complainant (and/or any child in the home) is likely to be greater than the harm suffered by the person who is forced to leave the home.
In other cases, where the harm is not thought to be so significant, the court has an option whether or not to make an order. In making its decision the court will consider:
Sometimes there is a concern that the other person will react badly if they learn that an application is about to be made. In that case the person seeking an injunction can apply to the court without telling the other side.
If the court grants the injunction it will then be given to the other person as soon as is possible. The order only
bites when it has been received by the other person. In some cases nothing else happens; the order simply lasts for 12 months (or some other period specified by the judge).
In others, the person against whom the order was made will seek to challenge it. There will then be a hearing to decide what order should be made and for how long. Sometimes these hearings can be quite long, up to a day, but that is unusual.
Often cases will settle with one or both sides giving
undertakings to the court. An undertaking is a solemn promise to do (or not do) something. For example, use violence against another person or threaten them.
Such promises should not be given lightly. If they are broken the court can impose a fine or a prison sentence or both.